As 2018 draws to a close, engineers at award-winning electronics design consultancy ByteSnap Design have been wondering what the year ahead holds for the embedded systems industry. Here’s their forecast…
As Amazon and Billy Bass join forces, we look forward to the improving functionality of voice assistants next year. They should have better connectivity, and will continue to have extra features added. For example, Google Assistant has recently been updated with routines, so that you can say “I am going to bed” and it will know that means “Turn off the light, lower the thermostat, and switch off the TV”.
These up-scaled voice assistants are also likely to be implemented into more devices such as cars, and children’s toys such animatronics and pet robots.
Although EVs with larger batteries tend to dominate the trade press, counter-intuitively, we predict an increasing market for EVs with small batteries for the foreseeable future - primarily for urban driving.
We also expect to that 2019 will see the start of a drive which sees small battery BEVs decreasing in size over the coming decades. Here’s why:
The average trip distance in the UK is 7.04 miles; an average commuting journey is 11.2 miles  and an average car drives 6500 to 7500 miles . This means that, if we assume a recharge only happens at home and we allow for a 100% margin, an urban BEV only needs a range of 45 miles. Also, note: 7500/365 = just 20 miles.
EV owners generally charge opportunistically. So, as the number of charge points increases, the requirement for BEVs to support a whole day’s journey will reduce by a factor of 2 or so, meaning that an urban BEV range of 23 miles will become the norm.
Batteries are going to drop in price; especially as the BEV market explodes and better battery technology appears (currently increasing at about 15% energy density per year ), but the simplicity of BEVs will drive cost reductions in all areas and an obvious area is the batteries themselves, since a smaller battery means a lighter car: which results in additional cost savings in the car chassis, brakes, charging tech, motor power etc.
Vehicle to grid technology will work well with small battery BEVs, primarily because household power consumption is and will be going down in the future. Even a BEV with a 25 mile capacity will be, at about 4.5miles per KWh, just 5.5KWh and this will be enough to provide about 30% of household electricity consumption.
Small capacity BEVs reduce the rate of churn in charging technology and will make it easier to balance out charging demand. For example, an average 11.2 mile journey would require: 11.2/4.5 = 2.5KWh or 21 minutes to charge at a domestic level of 7KW.
Autonomous BEV taxis will need most of the same characteristics of these urban BEVs – for example, when such a taxi is booked, the user will provide the intended route and thus a small battery BEV will be directed to the user). In addition there will be a large market for autonomous 2 person taxis, which because of additional weight reductions makes small battery BEVs even more viable.
Now, we’re not predicting that all BEVs will be like this. Rather that we see that, for second cars or autonomous taxis, mini or microBEVs have a large market potential in a number of areas as the technology and infrastructure improves. For most people, long-distance journeys tend to be occasional; therefore households will either have second, larger BEVs or hire BEV taxis .
We expect in 2019 to see really strong growth in EV (BEV) sales. They have been widely production constrained and - given the poor market in the rest of the automotive sector and the cut back in allowances on PHEVs - BEVs will surge.
The first 5G-ready phones are due to be released early next year. As 5G communications continue to be developed around the world, we believe there’ll be a greater push by network operators to start the rollout of 5G infrastructure in the UK in 2019. The West Midlands has been designated the UK’s 5G testbed by the Government, and has been awarded £75 million of funding for the task. Despite the lack of cohesion regarding a global 5G rollout and the applications focus (Low latency – for, say, control of vehicles from the cloud? Super-high data rate? Low power, for IoT-type devices?), we expect to a lot of growth in the UK’s 5G infrastructure next year to herald the arrival of 5G devices in 2020.
Smart glasses will gain greater industry prominence over the next few months and we expect they’ll re-emerge with very specific use cases in mind, rather than Google’s approach of a replacement for your phone. Cycling glasses with navigation built in and specialised heavy duty glasses for use on construction sites could be potential uses.
More companies have been launching their own fitness trackers/Fitbit clones this year. In order to compete with an increase in competition, expect to see developers step up their game in 2019 and improve what their trackers can actually detect. For example, they can currently detect your steps, sleep quality and heart rate, so in theory they should be able to detect if you are ill, when you have a lower amount of steps, a poorer quality of sleep and a higher heart rate, and can then offer advice to you. This could potentially link in with Amazon’s Alexa, which has patented a technology to tell if you are ill based on your voice to give you product recommendations.
We’re likely to experience a maturing of IoT across 2019, as it takes a greater foothold in industry, construction and other more traditional verticals, rather than being mainly consumer-driven.
This expansion in the more slow-moving industries will be fuelled by the normalisation of connected technologies in society and with it a reduction in the perception of risk associated with their adoption plus the improvements in IoT security, which has been a major focus for semiconductor manufacturers.
Qualcomm was blocked from taking over NXP by the Chinese Government this year. Despite the cancellation of $44 billion dollar deal – Qualcomm still seems keen to expand in the semiconductor space – so look out for updates on its takeover ambitions over the next few months. Other circling big hitters include Broadcom, Cypress and Microchip.
Amongst all the takeover activity next year, however, we expect that the mega-mergers the industry has seen in the past – such as Avago Technologies’ $37BN acquisition of Broadcom in 2016 – are unlikely to be repeated during 2019. There are a number of factors to support this, including global trade tensions, increasing regulatory activity around mergers and stock market underperformance in the sector in 2018.
Therefore, it looks to us as though double digit deals (at least those north of $20BN) will be thin on the ground next year.
IoT has now been through the buzz word phase where everyone jumps on the band waggon and big money is being thrown at people with slick suits who often have no clue what they’re doing. The fridge that orders your food isn’t in anyone’s kitchen but most of the hype has moved to crypto currency and self-driving vehicles now so this is a good time for some IoT devices which genuinely improve people’s lives to come into their own.
While there are some who love the process of mowing the lawns and watering plants, there are a large number, especially in tech-savvy generations, who consider this to be the kind of drudgery that technology can handle. Many in these cohorts can’t afford houses with gardens, but as more of them do, we expect 2019 to be a good year for robot gardening. Other areas to remove boredom with IoT are probably the place to look for genuinely useful applications which people will buy to make their lives better.
Do you agree with ByteSnap Design's predictions? Or do you think other trends and areas of the sector – such as cybersecurity, FinTech or Agri-Tech – will dominate industry headlines instead next year?
 (page 11):https://www.racfoundation.org/assets/rac_foundation/content/downloadables/car-and-the-commute-web-version.pdf
 (page 11):https://www.licencebureau.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/road-use-statistics.pdf
 EV Battery energy density and cost: https://www.darrinqualman.com/electric-car-numbers-and-tech/electric-vehicle-battery-energy-density-and-cost-graph/